Tuesday, January 30, 2007

No Wonder The US Goes Unilateral

An article in today's New York Times details a growing spat between the US and the EU over the pace of imposing sanctions on Iran as punishment for Iran's continued violations of UN Security Council resolutions to abandon its nuclear program. Specifically, despite being in the forefront of the diplomatic push against Iran's nuclear program and strongly supporting the UNSC resolution calling for sanctions, the EU is now dragging its feet in actually imposing those sanctions. According to the Times:

At issue now is how the resolution is to be carried out, with Europeans resisting American appeals for quick action, citing technical and political problems related to the heavy European economic ties to Iran and its oil industry.


Administration officials say a new American drive to reduce exports to Iran and cut off its financial transactions is intended to further isolate Iran commercially amid the first signs that global pressure has hurt Iran’s oil production and its economy. There are also reports of rising political dissent in Iran.


“We are telling the Europeans that they need to go way beyond what they’ve done to maximize pressure on Iran,” said a senior administration official. “The European response on the economic side has been pretty weak.” The American demands and European responses were provided by 10 different officials, including both supporters and critics of the American approach.

One irony of the latest pressure, European and American officials say, is that on their own, many European banks have begun to cut back their transactions with Iran, partly because of a Treasury Department ban on using dollars in deals involving two leading Iranian banks.

American pressure on European governments, as opposed to banks, has been less successful, administration and European officials say.

The main targets are Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain, all with extensive business dealings with Iran, particularly in energy. Administration officials say, however, that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, the current head of the European Union, has been responsive.

Europe has more commercial and economic ties with Iran than does the United States, which severed relations with Iran after the revolution and seizure of hostages in 1979.

The administration says that European governments provided $18 billion in government loan guarantees for Iran in 2005. The numbers have gone down in the last year, but not by much, American and European officials say.

American officials say that European governments may have facilitated illicit business and that European governments must do more to stop such transactions. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. has said the United States has shared with Europeans the names of at least 30 front companies involved in terrorism or weapons programs.

“They’ve told us they don’t have the tools,” said a senior American official. “Our answer is: get them.”

“We want to squeeze the Iranians,” said a European official. “But there are varying degrees of political will in Europe about turning the thumbscrews. It’s not straightforward for the European Union to do what the United States wants.”

[Interesting, isn't it, that this is a very similar problem to the one going on during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq; the Europeans, specifically the French and the Germans, were pushing for easing the sanctions on Iraq so they could ramp up their business dealings with Iraq, while the US was demanding stronger actions.]

The US under the Bush Administration has come under extremely heavy criticism for its failure to act multilaterally and for its disrespect of international institutions. Much of that criticism has been well deserved, as the US has squandered much of its post-9/11 goodwill, harmed its reputation as a cooperative actor, and damaged the institutions that it uses to govern the international system. However, multilateralism can be, if done poorly, just as dangerous as can be unilateralism.

Unilateral action can be more efficient, but it is also prone to less rational decision making processes. Multilateral action may get more opinions involved in the decision making process, and it may increase the sense of legitimacy surrounding an international action, but it can also be more prone to collective actions problems, such as free riding. Furthermore, when multilateral action in dealing with a crisis is not backed up with a sanction of force, it can easily devolve into appeasement.

It is plausible [please note I'm not arguing that this would have happened, only that it is plausible] that if France, Germany, and those in the UN opposed to the invasion of Iraq had been willing to enact a resolution threatening Iraq with war unless increased cooperation with previous resolution was immediately forthcoming, the US might have been willing to wait to see if inspections and sanctions would have worked, possibly avoiding the invasion all together. Instead, the UN steadfastly refused to give its own resolutions teeth, France and Germany continued lobbying for the erosion of the sanctions regime, and the US had good reason to doubt that the UN would do what was necessary to enforce its resolutions. One need look no farther than the moronic comments of Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency for another example of multilateralism that cannot be taken seriously.

If multilateralism is to be taken seriously in the security arena -- that is, if states and particularly the leader of the international system, i.e. the US, are to place responsibility for their own security in the hands of other states or even international institutions -- multilateralism must prove itself capable of fulfilling its mandate. And that will, occasionally, require the serious threat of force, and in even rarer circumstances, the use of that threatened force. The US will only see fit to restrain its unilateral freedom of action if the international community steps up to the plate when called upon. In this case, if the EU wishes to remain a meaningful partner in the non-proliferation efforts against Iran and wants to be taken seriously as a power broker on the world stage, it must be capable of enforcing the rules that it creates. It must develop the tools, in the case, to punish Iran for its proliferation according to the rules that the EU helped put into place. Then, and only then, can one even begin to discuss getting the US to behave in a more multilateral fashion. And if the EU or the UN will not do that, then the US will continue to ride roughshod over international opinion in an effort to provide for its own security.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Analyzing The WMD Intelligence Failure In Iraq

On Friday, I attended a talk by Professor Robert Jervis of Columbia University, sponsored by the International Studies Colloquium of the Political Science Department at the University of Washington. Jervis, recently ranked as one of the top 1o most influential international relations scholars by Foreign Policy, gave a talk entitled "Reports, Politics, and Intelligence Failures on WMD: The Case of Iraq" in which he analyzed and assessed what caused the failure of the US, and international, intelligence communities to miss the absence of WMD in Iraq, and what can be done to improve intelligence efforts in the future. Professor Jervis has worked with the CIA on intelligence reform, and performed an external review of the Iraq-WMD failure, much of which is classified, so much of the talk was based on that review.

The general problems experienced by the CIA in Iraq, while perhaps more serious due to their nature, are not really different, according to Jervis, from the problems experienced by many other large organizations. Organizations have pathologies all their own that makes it difficult for them to learn from their mistakes and to adapt. The specific problems in Iraq were compounded by the difficulties in penetrating the country and in understanding the erratic and confusing behaviors of Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, all these problems are present in other scenarios, such as North Korea or Iran.

The intelligence failure itself can be explained as one of three outcomes: Wrong assessments, not having the information that good intelligence should have had (also called collection failure), and developing unreasonable inferences from the available information (analysis failure). Having looked at all of the information and spoken with the analysts, Jervis concluded that a combination of collection and analysis failure were at work, causing analysts to make errors, but not ones caused by political pressure or willful ignorance/wishful thinking. This, however, leads to an interesting paradox of good news/bad news: The good news is that the analysts did a pretty good job of processing the available information, the bad news is that it is exceedingly difficult to avoid similar problems in the future.

The main problem of collection failure is a basic one: How much intelligence is needed to prove the absence of WMD? As former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld once noted, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." And of course this can be true: intelligence grossly understated the state of Iraq's WMD programs before the first Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) as well as the nuclear program of Iran before confirming evidence could be gathered. There is no easy fix for this problem, and it is likely to be even worse in the future: the US had tons of intelligence on Iraq and will likely have much less in, say, confrontations with Iran or North Korea. One thing that can be improved, according to Jervis, is to create closer links between the collectors and the analysts. More reliance on alternative explanations could help as well.

The problem of analytic failure is just as serious and just as hard to fix. Alternative explanations of Saddam's behavior seemed to be missing from the analysis -- no one bothered to ask why Hussein would commit suicide. Furthermore, while analysts were making reasonable assessments based on the available information -- remember, every country, even those opposed to the invasion agreed that Iraq had large stocks of CBW and was moving towards a nuclear program -- they did tend to overstate their confidence in their assessments.

Unfortunately, Jervis notes that the overall failure would have been very difficult to prevent. Jervis' assessment was, as noted, that given the available information and intelligence, the inference of the presence of WMD was the best and more reasonable inference, even with the benefit of hindsight, although perhaps the confidence levels were overstated. Saddam's behavior was extremely puzzling for any alternative explanations, as he was clearly behaving, even while UN inspectors were crawling all over the country, as if he was trying to hide a WMD program. Why would Hussein behave this way and risk invasion and the destruction of his regime if he did in fact have nothing to hide? Furthermore, the plausibility of this inference was supported by previous examples: the inability of the intelligence community to correctly assess Iraq's WMD program before Desert Storm, the fact that Hussein had in fact used WMD in both the Iran-Iraq War and against the Kurds. UN inspectors were only able to examine 35% of the identified potential WMD sites, and Hussein's behavior of delays and misdirection seemed to support an argument that WMD information was being moved around to deceive the inspectors.

Jervis was able to identify several fundamental problems that can be addressed, although with great difficulty. First, the analysts in general did not do a good job of questioning their base assumptions. Also, the analysts displayed a lack of understanding of how to deal with negative evidence. For example, there was no systematic tallying or analysis of reports asserting the absence of WMDs. As any good scientist knows, a theory must be able to account for negative evidence. Unfortunately, these are some of the hardest problems to deal with and Jervis was unable to provide any concrete methods for solving them.

He did present a solid argument that political pressure was not responsible for the intelligence failure, claiming that no reasonable inference to the contrary could have been drawn from the available intelligence, and that while the confidence levels could have been lower, that likely would not have been sufficient to avoid conflict. Furthermore, if the Bush Administration was systematically pressuring the CIA to produce skewed analysis, that wouldn't explain why even the countries opposed to the war, such as France or Germany, could not produce any solid evidence or arguments to the contrary. Finally, Jervis noted that the CIA did challenge the Bush Administration on both the difficulties of occupation/reconstruction as well as the possibility of an Iraq-al Qaeda link. If political pressure was to blame for the intelligence failure, you would not likely have seen disagreement on those areas either.

So, what can be done? Unfortunately, the problems that produced the Iraqi WMD intelligence failure are some of the hardest to solve. There were no glaring, obvious, easy-to-solve causes or problems, meaning that there will be no easy solutions. Jervis presented three main reform proposals: Increased use of Red Teaming (Red Teaming means using a group of people to think solely about alternative explanations and to challenge the logic of the "main" group); more product evaluation (which is very hard to do for a variety of reasons), and greater connection of the intelligence community to outside experts for new, fresh opinions.

Ultimately, Jervis' talk was exceedingly important, if not frustrating. Frustrating because the problems in intelligence analysis are not likely to be solved. The international community is facing two major WMD problems in Iran and North Korea, and good intel is critically important in dealing with each. However, the US is likely to have even less reliable intel in either country than it did in Iraq. So, how to proceed? First, recognizing that there is a problem is the first step in solving the problem. Merely being cognizant of the reasons for failure in Iraq can help prevent a repeat failure. Analysts and policy makers alike must be more aware of how to deal with negative evidence, and must be more realistic when producing confidence levels. Iraq also reveals the limitations of relying on previous experience and outcomes; lessons drawn from history can guide present policy, but cannot be used as hard and fast rules. With Iran, for example, many similar problems exist. Iran had engaged in a long practice of deceit and denial about its nuclear program, causing international observers to grossly underestimate the extent of the program until recently. Analysts must be careful not to fall back too much on historical examples to determine plausibility of present scenarios. Each must be considered independently, and all assumptions must be challenged. This of course raises the serious possibility of historical ignorance and the creation of blinders.

The business of intelligence collection and analysis is necessarily a messy one, but one that is nonetheless vital to the security of this country and the larger international community. We will inevitable have to make decisions based on incomplete and unsatsifactory information. The lessons of the WMD failure in Iraq cannot be that the analysis was wrong and suspect. Jervis presents some useful ways to think about how to improve on the analytic assessments but we must be prepared for more failures along the lines of Iraq. Policy makers must make decisions for a collective good based on the best information they have, and they will often be wrong. It's important to remember that the intelligence failure is a separate issue from debacles that have been present in the occupation and reconstruction. Becoming too cautious as a result could have just as bad consequences, if not worse.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Israel In NATO?

David Schraub over at The Debate Link calls my attention to an interesting article in the Jerusalem Post claiming that the Israeli National Security Council is discussing how to get Israel accepted as a permanent member of NATO. According to the article:

In an effort to establish more effective deterrence in the face of Iran's race to obtain nuclear weapons, government ministries are, for the first time, working on drafting a position paper that will include guidelines and a strategy for turning Israel into a full-fledged member of NATO....

The paper is being drafted by an interministerial committee made up of representatives from the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry and headed by the National Security Council. The committee plans to complete the paper by the end of February and present it to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for approval.
The possibility has a few early supporters mentioned in the article, including former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, ex-senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, and General Lord Charles Guthre, former chief of the UK Defense Staff.

David's post on this question asks some interesting questions and notes some possible problems:

For one, as the article notes, most NATO countries do not want to be locked into a strategic alliance with a country embroiled in so many tense (to say the least) situations with its neighbors. For two, it would obviously strain relations between the NATO bloc and the Islamic world. Unfortunate, and possibly worth biting, but still a real concern. The third issue, however, which I think might be overlooked, is how Israel's contribution to NATO might be severely circumscribed by geopolitical realities. The article questions whether Israel will want to contribute troops to foreign peacekeeping operations. That, by which I mean Israeli willingness, I don't see as a major problem. The issue is that many of the locations for peacekeeping won't be willing to accept Israeli contributions. Putting Israeli troops in a peacekeeping force in Darfur, for example, would be a colossal PR disaster and would immediately be seized upon by the government (who, if you recall, already blames the Jews) and would make the job that much tougher. There are plenty of areas in which an Israeli contribution, though materially useful, would be diplomatically suicidal, and that I feel would create a serious strain on the alliance.
Excellent points all. The third, which David identifies as perhaps the most problematic, I don't find as troubling. After all, US soldiers rarely get involved in peacekeeping for largely the same reasons that Israeli forces wouldn't: they would make too tempting of a target and cause too much political strain. The Europeans do most of the heavy lifting when NATO gets involved with peacekeeping, and I don't see why, if Israel was to join, that would need to change. If/when Israel's entry into NATO might inflame the Arab/Islamic states, but Turkey's membership should do a little to assuage that. Also, would it really be have that much worse of an effect than US-Israeli ties already do?

The original article mentions that the odds of Israel joining NATO before a resolution of the Palestinian issue are low, but to me that seems to have things backward. Israeli accession to NATO would go a long way to easing a lot of the security concerns felt by Israel, especially those posed by Iran and the proliferation problems there. If Israel no longer has to worry about dealing with Iran, if Israel is protected by the American nuclear umbrella and NATO's collective defense, Israel would no longer need to worry about its northern borders. The more secure Israel feels, the more it may be willing to make progress on a Palestinian homeland. Membership in NATO would also send a clear message to those who refuse to recognize Israel (i.e. Hamas) that striving for Israel's destruction is a fool's errand.

Of course, all of this speculation is merely that for now. It's hard to imagine any serious movement towards admitting Israel into NATO. But I do see it as a move worth making.

Friday, January 19, 2007

War In Space?

The wars of the future will not be fought on a battlefield or at sea. They will be fought on space, or possibly on the top of a very tall mountain. In any case, most of the fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today, remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots. Thank you.

-- Commandant, Rommelwood Military School ("The Secret War of Lisa Simpson," The Simpsons).

The war envisioned in the above quote is perhaps not quite so far off any more. On January 11, China successfully tested a ground-based weapon system designed to intercept and destroy space-based platforms, such as satellites. Using a kinetic-kill vehicle (a weapon that uses kinetic energy rather than explosives to destroy its target), China successfully knocked out an aging weather satellite using a ballistic missile. The test has been greeted with condemnation from the US, Great Britain, Japan, Australia, and Canada as an unnecessary creation of a space-based arms race, to which China has responded by professing its desire to "oppose the weaponization of space."

Why is a successful test of an ASAT (anti-satellite) weapon so troubling to so many countries? War is a pretty awful and comprehensive business anyway? Why would extending war into space be so vexing? Several reasons: First, from a national security perspective, a good deal of the American dominance in combat comes from its huge advantages in information -- reconnaissance, communications, imaging, GPS targeting and navigation, and so on -- which relies on satellites. An early strike on those space-based assets could blind the US military and level the playing field. True, the US has better weapons platforms and better trained soldiers, but without satellites, those advantages get mitigated.

Second, from a more global perspective, there is so much dual-use technology sharing between the military and the wider public that satellites, even military ones, are rarely purely military targets. GPS navigation, cell phones, weather imaging...all of these technologies rely on satellites that would be targeted in any preemptive military strike. Extending war into space could have dire consequences not just for the US military, but for the economies and civilian populations the world over.

The Bush Administration has, to date, not been willing to expend any resources for a ban on anti-satellite weapons, stating that "there is no arms race in space." Now there is. And it's serious. Despite Chinese professions to the contrary, "in the short-term, the Chinese will simply not be credible partners in efforts to keep space peaceful. Moreover, other countries could follow suit with their own anti-satellite programs, including the United States." Furthermore, the test sends another strong signal that China is moving to balance the might of the US.

The US needs to move quickly to deal with this development. While a war with China may be a long, long, LONG off, the US strategy of engagement cannot become complacent. If China is to be slowly brought in to the Western fold, it needs to be presented with stark choices: Its support for the genocidal Sudanese regime, for example, should be punished by the restriction of economic ties, as should any further development of ASAT weapons. Such actions may hurt in the short run, but if China really prefers economic engagement with the West to military confrontation, the pain won't last too long. However, if China desires to challenge US hegemony, better to know now than later.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Can They Revoke A Peace Prize?

Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, announced today that sanctions placed last month on Iran for its continued violations of UN and IAEA rules are a bad idea. The sanctions, imposed by the UN Security Council banned transfers of sensitive nuclear materials and know-how to Iran and established a 60-day deadline for Iran to halt nuclear fuel work or else face the possibility of increased punishment. However, according to ElBaradei "I don't think sanctions will resolve the issue. I think sanctions, in my view, could lead to escalation on both sides."

This is an absolute disgrace and amounts to little more than appeasement. Iran's violations of its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations are numerous and well-documented. All five members of the UN Security Council supported the sanctions, which is as rare as a political event can be. The five UNSC members along with Germany have long been offering a generous incentive package to Iran on the condition that it suspends its uranium enrichment program. And yet ElBaradei sees fit to undermine the UN by drawing some kind of moral equivalency in the two positions: "My worry right now is that each side is sticking to their gun if you like. The international community is sticking to their gun, saying 'sanctions or bust'. Iran is saying 'nuclear enrichment capability or bust'." Meanwhile, ElBaradei has openly agreed with John Negroponte, the former head of US National Intelligence and currently awaiting confirmation as Deputy Secretary of State, that Iran will likely be capable of producing a nuclear weapon in 4-7 years.

Peace is not about giving in. As Europe learned in the 1930s, it's not about appeasing rogue states (and no, I'm not comparing Iran to Nazi Germany). Sometimes the cause of peace requires making judgments about good and bad, right and wrong. Sometimes it even requires going to war. ElBaradei's comments and subversion of the UN do not contribute to peace. Rather, they create incentives for Iran to continue to ignore the unanimous will of the international community. I don't believe that the UN will necessarily be able to solve this crisis. In fact, it may not be possible to prevent Iran from proliferating. But when the UN can unite behind something it should be given a chance to work. If the UN is to have any meaning in maintaining international peace and security, it must become tougher and more willing and capable of implementing sanctions on those that violate the will of the international community. ElBaradei is simply ensuring the UN continues to be a weak institution doomed to be ignored by those it seeks to restrain. One can only wish that his Nobel Peace Prize could be revoked.

Promising Developments in Iraq

In what must be seen as a tiny sliver of a ray of light, the Iraqi government has moved to arrest several dozen senior leaders of the Mahdi Army of Moktada al-Sadr, as well as hundreds of Shiite fighters from that milita. As the New York Times notes:
It was the first time the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had claimed significant action against the militia, the Mahdi Army, one of the most intractable problems facing his administration. The militia’s leader, the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, helped put Mr. Maliki in power, but pressure to crack down on the group has mounted as its killings in the capital have driven a wedge into efforts to keep the country together.

Although the announcement seemed timed to deflect growing scrutiny by an American administration that has grown increasingly frustrated with Mr. Maliki, American officers here offered some support for the government’s claims, saying that at least half a dozen senior militia leaders had been taken into custody in recent weeks.

In perhaps the most surprising development, the Americans said, none of the members had been prematurely released, a chronic problem as this government has frequently shielded Shiite fighters.

If the commanders and fighters are not released, and if the Iraqi government can sustain this kind of pressure on the Mahdi Army and the other non-governmental militias, there is hope that Iraq can still be stabilized and salvaged. For now, at least, there is a little shred of hope.

UPDATE: More signs that Iraq is getting serious about challenging the militias from this AP report:

Mahdi Army fighters said Thursday they were under siege in their Sadr City stronghold as U.S. and Iraqi troops killed or seized key commanders in pinpoint nighttime raids. Two commanders of the Shiite militia said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has stopped protecting the group under pressure from Washington and threats from Sunni Muslim Arab governments.

The two commanders' account of a growing siege mentality inside the organization could represent a tactical and propaganda feint, but there was mounting evidence the militia was increasingly off balance and had ordered its gunmen to melt back into the population. To avoid capture, commanders report no longer using cell phones and fighters are removing their black uniforms and hiding their weapons during the day.

We'll wait and see if this trend continues....

A Discussion On The Laws of War

Over at Opinio Juris is a fascinating on-going discussion about the laws of war. The discussion is being led by guest-blogger John Bellinger, the Legal Advisor to the US Department of State (yes, it is highly unusual and an fantastic opportunity that such an important member of government would enter into such a free-wheeling debate). Bellinger has posted on the impact of the legal status of the US fight against al Qaeda, the meaning of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, and the legal reasoning behind the "enemy combatant" designation. There are fascinating discussions in the comments as well. There are also responses and commentaries on Bellinger's posts from the Opinio Juris regulars, as well as law professor guest-bloggers such as Eric Posner from the University of Chicago, Ken Anderson from American University, and Michael Ramsey from the University of San Diego.

If you are at all interested in the legal issues surrounding the laws of war and the war on terror, go check out the posts.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and US Foreign Policy?

[with all apologies to Elvis Costello...]

This past weekend, Nicholas Kristof had an op-ed piece in the New York Times asking a simple question: "Why [is the US] so awful at foreign policy?" [rr]

Kristof's question is a good one. The US has notoriously had a difficult time crafting an effective foreign policy (although I don't know of any country that is necessarily good at it). Here's Kristof:

It’s not just right-wing Republicans who are the problem. President Bush has been particularly myopic, but Democrats mired us in Vietnam: shortsightedness is a bipartisan tradition in foreign policy. Historically, we are often our own worst enemy.

Why is this the case? Kristof offers two explanations:

The first is that great powers always lumber about, stepping on toes, provoking resentments, and solving problems militarily simply because they have that capability....

The second reason is particular to the U.S.: We don’t understand the world.
I tend to agree with the first, but Kristof's second explanation is far too simplistic. Kristof claims that the US fails to grasp the appeal of simple nationalistic politics, in part because few Americas have lived abroad. Why should Americans be any less understanding of the world than other countries? If anything, the opposite should be true. The US is the most integrated, most diverse country in the world. According to the US Census Bureau, as of 1997 10% of the US population was born abroad.

The flaw that I think Kristof is hinting at but ultimately misses is that, historically, the US has failed to understand and embrace cold-blooded realist foreign policies. The two biggest US foreign policy disasters have been the result of attempts at crusading and moralizing: Vietnam and Iraq. Realist politics would have kept the US out of both. Indeed, many realists, so often mischaracterized as hawks, argued against invading Iraq long before the invasion took place. See "An Unnecessary War," by John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt (Foreign Policy, Jan/Feb. 2003) for an excellent example.

Of course, a more realist foreign policy is not necessarily a pacific or mistake-free foreign policy. US backing for dictators such as Pinochet during the Cold War or American support for the coup that brought down the Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 would both likely be justified in a realist calculus. But, realism would caution against moral endeavors like Iraq; look at the pining for Bush 41 style foreign policy.

But can the US have a more realist foreign policy? Should it? The answer to both questions is, most likely, no. The US has, since its beginnings, seen itself in the "city on the hill" mode. Whether that's the quasi-religious vision of some conservatives or the human rights-based arguments of more liberal types, American foreign policy has always understood itself to be advancing universal truths and improving the lots of others. Furthermore, look what happens when the US ignores moral imperatives in favor of realist calculations: Rwanda. Sudan. The "realist" policies of Nixon and detente likely extended the shelf-life of the Soviet Union; the neo-conservative policies of Reagan forced the issue and led to the end of the Cold War.

For all of its problems, the US will most likely continue to eschew cold, hard realism for a more amalgamated mix of realism and idealism. And yes, that will lead to crusading, moralizing, and misadventures. But it also keeps this country grounded in the ideals that make it great.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Lessons of MLK for IR

As I enjoy one last day of winter break before the Spring semester begins tomorrow, I thought it appropriate to think a bit on this day in honor of Martin Luther King about the lessons from MLK that can be applied to international relations. Focusing on the outstanding "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," written in response to a critique of non-violent confrontation instead of continued negotiation published by eight clergy, we find the essence of MLK's strategy of non-violence:

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through an these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants --- for example, to remove the stores humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves : "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic with withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.


You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.


One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: "Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?" The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."


You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may won ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there fire two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the Brat to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all"

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distort the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I-it" relationship for an "I-thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression 'of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?....
When reading King's forceful defense of the need for non-violent confrontation, I cannot but help think of the Palestinians. It is not difficult to imagine that an approach that relied less on rockets, kidnappings, and suicide bombs would have already resulted in an independent Palestinian state. For all its brutality and unjustness in the treatment of the Palestinians, Israel is a liberal democracy that realizes the contradictions and problems that result from the occupation. Oppressing the Palestinians rips at the moral soul of the country and its people every day. But, when people feel threatened, when their children are kidnapped or murdered, when missiles slam in to their homes, when sitting in a coffee shop becomes an adventure in risk taking, injustice can be explained away as necessary self-defense.

If Palestinians were lying down in front of Israeli bulldozers, chaining themselves to their olive trees, conducting sit-ins in Jewish settlements in the territories, would Israel react differently than did the US during the civil rights era? It seems unlikely. Instead, however, Palestinians turned to violence almost from the beginning of Israel's history, even before the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war.

It will be interesting to see what difference the security fence being built in the West Bank will have. By most accounts, suicide bombings in Israel have nearly stopped and 2006 saw the fewest Israeli deaths in six years. The withdrawal from Gaza, which was already fenced off from Israel, and the construction of the fence have made it exceedingly difficult for Palestinians to infiltrate themselves into Israel. As Israeli casualties drop and Israelis begin to feel more secure in their everyday lives, they very well be more willing to consider the plight of the Palestinians. As Palestinians find that violence is a less effective strategy, perhaps they might turn to a MLK-like program of non-violent confrontation to force the issue.

As King noted, "freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." Hopefully, the Palestinians can learn, or be taught, that violence is not an effective demand.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Surge

President Bush has formally announced what has been known for quite some time: 21,500 more US troops will be deployed to Iraq. 16,000 will go to Baghdad, and the rest will be deployed into the Anbar province (this graphic from the New York Times nicely outlines the president's plan, along with opposing views). This is, in essence, the last attempt to salvage something approximating a winning strategy. This surge in US force levels will, as I have written about before and as the Washington Post article linked above agrees, result in increased levels of violence, as US troops take on the militias and death squads that have riven the country. The surge will be accompanied by increases in reconstruction efforts and the creation of a jobs program to deal with some of the economic issues that have also contributed to the problems.

Will the surge work? Much of its potential rests on the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who, to date, hasn't shown much interest in doing the heavy lifting required for stabilizing the country. Yesterday, al-Maliki called out the rebel militias, agreeing to directly challenge the Mahdi Army of Moktada al-Sadr (something to which al-Maliki had previously not been willing to do), and to allow US forces to engage both Shiite and Sunnis militias. President Bush has increased the pressure on al-Maliki, calling for the creation of benchmarks to gauge Iraqi progress and stating that "America's commitment is not open-ended....If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people."

If the surge is to work, then political fortitude will be needed from many different actors. The Iraqi government must be willing to destroy the rival militias in the face of public outrage, and President Bush, the US Congress, and the American people must be willing to sustain higher casualties when US soldiers engage the militias. This is no easy task. One need to look no further than the Palestinian territories and the on-going war between Hamas and Fatah, or the problems between Lebanon and Hezbollah, to see how hard it is for political leaders to challenge rival military groups. Iraqi nerve will likely depend on the incentives provided by the US. If the US is willing to do much of the fighting and if the jobs and reconstruction programs work, al-Maliki and the rest of the Iraqi government may be willing to see this through. Conversely, President Bush needs to firm up the benchmarks by threatening to pull out rapidly if the Iraqi government loses its nerve. Al-Maliki must understand that the consequences of failing to challenge the militias will outweigh the benefits of appeasement and cowardice.

Here in the US, there seems to be no doubt that Bush and his administration has the will to do what they deem necessary. So the question becomes whether Congress and the American public will support the president's plan. It is time for Congress to decide where it stands. If it opposes the surge, it must not simply pass symbolic votes against it, but must use all of its political tools to prevent the president from acting on his plan, including cutting off the funds being used to prosecute the war. Congress can not try to have its cake and eat it to, as I described earlier today. Allowing Bush to send the soldiers and then failing to do what is required to carry out the plan, as in Somalia, would be criminal.

The same is true of the American public. To date, there has been lots of grumbling against the war but little serious protest. In the face of the rise in casualties likely to come, that grumbling will get a lot worse unless the American public believes that the strategy is politically supported and winnable. President Bush must work with the newly-Democratic Congress to get its support, and if Congress is not willing to give that support it must openly and actively oppose and further troop increases in Iraq.

If all of these things come together -- the nerve of al-Maliki and the Iraqi government, the strength of Bush to punish Iraq if it loses that nerve, the political will of Congress, and the understanding and patience of the American people -- the surge has a chance of succeeding in its mission. But if any one of these parts is missing, many more US soldiers will die for a lost cause.

US Out Of Iraq! Sometime...If the Conditions Are Right...

If last November's elections were a referendum on, among other things, President Bush's and the Republican congressmen's handling of the Iraq War, then why do the newly politically dominant Democratic Party have more to say on bringing the troops home and ending the war? With the possible exception of Sen. Biden, who has recommended decentralizing the various ethnic regions and increasing the autonomy of the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds alike, no Democratic senator or congressman has proposed any kind of reasonable plan to deal with the situation. When faced with President Bush's surge (which I'll write more about later today), the Democrats respond with a vote "urging the president not to send more troops" that does not carry the force of law.

Why not? Why aren't those opposed to the war in Iraq, those who want to bring the troops home immediately, those who won last November's referendum on Iraq, why aren't they pushing through laws to force the president's hand? Unfortunately, most in Congress are much more interested in ensuring their own reelection than they are about actually changing things on the ground. It took more than 10 years and 57,000 casualties for Congress to muster the nerve to cut off funding for the Vietnam War, and it only did so after the troops had already come home. Our elected officials are terrified that if they go on record with a vote to bring US soldiers home they'll be branded as not supporting the troops which will hurt them in the next election. Furthermore, going on the non-binding record makes it possible to play both sides of the coin: If the surge works, they can't be blamed for opposing it; if it fails, they can point to the vote and say "see, I was against it all along." This all too common a pattern when Congress becomes involved in foreign policy, and goes a long way to explaining why the presidency has become so dominant in foreign affairs. Congress simply lacks the guts and spine to do what has to be done.

Where is the courage of their convictions?

UPDATE: Terry Michael, a former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, wonders the same thing:

Take Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware. "There's not much I can do about it," responded the Democratic "leader" on foreign policy, when asked on one of the Sunday venues for pompous pontificators how he would respond to any attempt by President Bush to escalate the war in Iraq (or "surge," if you prefer it in Orwellian newspeak).
This is a man who sees a future president during his morning look in the mirror. Sadly, the glass reflects an empty suit who embodies the congressional Democrats' decision to reduce action on Iraq to a political calculus appropriate for the highway appropriations bill, rather than as a moral imperative to challenge a policy that has sent thousands of twenty-somethings to their deaths in the desert.
You certainly can do something about it, Senator. It's called leadership. You rise on the Senate floor. You say you were out of your mind to write a blank check for this hideous misprojection of American military power. And then you propose immediate withdrawal, just slow enough to maximize the safety of the 135,000 mostly young men and women you helped put in harm's way by your collusion with this elective war. You do what Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon had the guts to do last month, stopping just short of accurately labeling this public policy obscenity a criminal enterprise.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A(nother) Cease-Fire in Darfur? Don't Get Too Excited...

For the second time, a cease-fire has been reached between the Sudanese government and the major rebel militia groups in Darfur. The cease-fire involves a 60-day cessation of hostilities, leading up to a peace summit with the African Union, the UN, the Sudan, and rebel groups. However, no one should be holding his breath in anticipation that this cease-fire will work.

First of all, negotiations like this always create a collective action problem wherein any group not party to the deal has a strong incentive to defect from the deal. [Sometimes this even applies to a group party to a deal but with multiple decentralized factions, such as the ETA, which announced that despite conducting a bombing in Spain over the New Year weekend, its cease-fire deal with the Spanish government is still in effect. In essence, because Spain has more to lose by scuttling the cease-fire, the ETA has a "get out of jail free" card.] This is what brought down the first cease-fire deal, and unless each and every Darfuri rebel group is included and has an incentive to adhere to the deal, it will, very shortly, be violated.

Second, the Sudanese government has, shortly after annoucing the cease-fire, reconfirmed that it will not allow UN troops to join or replace the too-small and too-weak AU peacekeeping force already on the ground in Darfur.

Nex Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, currently in Darfur and involved in the cease-fire negotiations, stated that "we've achieved something significant. It needs to be followed up. But unless there is proper implementation and follow through, this agreement is still up in the air. But I believe we've made an important breakthrough."

Unfortunately, Governor Richardson's comments are very likely premature. Neither the US nor the UN has demonstrated sufficient spine to enforce any deals or agreements, and has hardly mustered the energy to put any real pressure on Sudan or its protector, China. Until that happens, the situation is unlikely to improve.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Invisible Genocide

Back in May, I blogged about the "death of Zimbabwe," pointing out that Robert Mugabe was responsible for the destruction of his country's economy along with the destruction of entire villages. Unfortunately, the problems in Zimbabwe haven't died out, although the country itself may be about to do just that.

In an article in The Times, RW Johnson paints an absolutely bone-chilling portrait of what's going on in Zimbabwe as what can only be described as an invisible genocide, given how little public attention it has been given. [Hat tip to Peggy McGuinness over at Opinio Juris for the article] Some excerpts:
Under the weight of the general economic meltdown — the economy has shrunk by 40% since 2000 and is still contracting — the health system has collapsed and a populace now weakened by five consecutive years of near-starvation dies of things which would never have been fatal before. A staggering 42,000 women died in childbirth last year, for example, compared with fewer than 1,000 a decade ago.

A vast human cull is under way in Zimbabwe and the great majority of deaths are a direct result of deliberate government policies. Ignored by the United Nations, it is a genocide perhaps 10 times greater than Darfur’s and more than twice as large as Rwanda’s.

Reckoning the death toll is difficult. Had demographic growth continued normally, Zimbabwe’s population would have passed 15m by 2000 and 18m by the end of 2006. But people have fled the country in enormous numbers, with 3m heading for South Africa and an estimated further 1m scattered around the world. This would suggest a current population of 14m. But even the government, which tries to make light of the issue, says that there are only 12m left in Zimbabwe.

Social scientists say that the government’s figures are clearly rigged and too high. Their own population estimates vary between 8m and 11m. But even if one accepted the government figure, 2m people are “missing”, and the real number is probably 3m or more. And all this is happening in what was, until recently, one of Africa’s most prosperous states and a member of the Commonwealth.


Bulawayo, capital of Matabeleland, is a virtual ghost town, its wide and gracious streets sparsely peopled even at midday, for emigration and starvation have drained its lifeblood.

Matabeleland, always the centre of opposition to Mugabe, was the first to experience his iron fist in the mid-1980s and has taken more terrible punishment in recent years. Last year, in common with the rest of the country, it was the target of Operation Murambatsvina (Shona for “drive out the filth”) in which the police and army destroyed shanty towns and cracked down on informal traders after Mugabe decreed that they needed to be forcibly “re-ruralised” to regain their peasant roots. All told, some 2m people were affected.

Just what that meant becomes clear from the study carried out by the Reverend Albert Chatindo, whose parish, Killarney, lies on Bulawayo’s northern side. Here 217 families (1,300 people) whose houses had been demolished crowded into his church hall — only for the army to descend upon them again, load them into trucks and dump them in the middle of the bush without food or shelter.


This is not a genocide like that in Rwanda, where some 900,000 people were butchered in an orgy of tribal hatred. Instead, the regime’s key motive at every stage has simply been its own maintenance of power.

From 2000 on, it destroyed commercial agriculture because it saw the white farmers and their workers as opposition to Mugabe. This led to the first wave of killing, as some 2.25m farm-workers and their families were thrown off the farms, many after being beaten and tortured. An unknown number died. The eviction had the effect of collapsing the economy and cutting the food supply far below subsistence in every subsequent year.

What scarce food there was left, along with seeds, fertiliser, agricultural implements and every other means to life, was made dependent on possession of a Zanu-PF party card. Campaigns of terror followed in 2000 and 2002-03. The population has since been kept in a continuous state of anxiety by a series of military-style “operations”, of which Murambatsvina and Maguta are merely two particularly murderous examples.


Some 29% of sexually active Zimbabweans are reckoned to be HIV-positive and the economic collapse has devastated the health system and stopped the distribution of anti-Aids drugs. Studies show that HIV-sufferers with severe malnutrition are six times more likely to die than those who are properly fed and have access to proper medication.

World Health Organisation figures show that life expectancy in Zimbabwe, which was 62 in 1990, had by 2004 plummeted to 37 for men and 34 for women. These are by far the worst such figures in the world. Yet Zimbabwe does not even get onto the UN agenda: South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, who has covered for Mugabe from the beginning, uses his leverage to prevent discussion. How long this can go on is anyone’s guess.

After Rwanda, the UN vowed “never again” but Mugabe — and, to a considerable extent, Mbeki — have already been responsible for far more deaths than Rwanda suffered and the number is fast heading into realms previously explored only by Stalin, Mao and Adolf Eichmann.

2 -3 million people are missing, likely dead. An entire country, once wealthy and fertile, has been reduced to poverty, begging, and is crippled by hyperinflation spawned directly, if not intentionally, by its leader's policies. And yet there is little public outcry. Why? Perhaps because Mugabe was once seen as a nationalist hero, leading his country out from under the oppression of white minority rule and colonization. Perhaps because the world is distracted by Darfur, by Iraq, by North Korea. Perhaps because the genocide occurring in Zimbabwe is slow, methodical, and incidental to policy, rather than the product of massacres, bureaucratic murder, or gang rape.

Whatever the reason, the situation in Zimbabwe is beyond unacceptable. First, the African Union must abandon its spineless and feckless attempt at pan-African union and must immediately censure and sanction Mugabe and Zimbabwe. As recently as June 2005, the AU was evading its responsibility in protecting the continent, defending Mugabe's "urbanization" programs and stating that it would not be proper for the AU to intervene in the internal affairs of its members.

The new United Nations' Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, faces many challenges, not the least of which are the on-going genocides in Africa. If the UN is to have any relevancy in the modern world, it must abandon its blind adherence to state sovereignty and take action. States like Sudan or Zimbabwe that preside over the deaths of hundreds of thousands of their own citizens have no moral or legal claim to sovereignty. They must be treated as international pariahs; all voting rights and privileges in the UN should be suspended, and international sanctions should be imposed immediately. If the concept of an "international community" is to have any meaning, political or legal, it must be capable of taking action in cases where the most extreme limits of its norms are violated.

Monday, January 08, 2007

What I'm Reading

I've decided to add a new feature to Security Dilemmas: What I'm Reading. Starting today, I'll be posting about the books I'm reading that may be of interest to readers of this blog. When I've finished the books, I'll post reviews. Links to the books will be included down below the "Recommended Reading" blog roll.

First up, Max Boot's War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History 1500 to Today. From Amazon's web page:

From Publishers Weekly
From bronze cannons to smart bombs, this engaging study examines the impact of new weaponry on war by spotlighting exemplary battles, including famous epics like the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the attack on Pearl Harbor along with obscure clashes like the 1898 Battle of Omdurman, in which a British colonial force mowed down Sudanese tribesmen with machine guns. Boot (The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power) gives due weight to social context: advanced weapons don't spell victory unless accompanied by good training and leadership; innovative doctrine; an efficient, well-funded bureaucracy; and a "battle culture of forbearance" that eschews warrior ferocity in favor of a soldierly ethos of disciplined stoicism under fire. These factors flourish, he contends, under a rationalist, progressive Western mindset. The author, a journalist and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, enlivens his war stories with profiles of generals from Gustavus Adolphus to Norman Schwarzkopf and splashes of blood and guts. Boot distills 500 years of military history into a well-paced, insightful narrative. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor, USMC (ret.), coauthor of Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq
War Made New is impressive in scope. What is equally impressive is its unique interpretation of the causal relationship between technology, warfare and the contemporary social milieu. This is a superb thinking-person's book, which scrutinizes conventional historical wisdom through a new lens.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Right Moves In Iraq?

President Bush is apparently preparing a fairly major policy proposal concerning Iraq. According to this AP report, Bush intends to announce that troop levels will be increased, as well as programs to improve the unemployment situation, such as direct loans to Iraqi businesses.

As many congressmen are already noting, a troop increase will not work unless it is directly tied to specific policy goals and benchmarks for gauging progress. What goals and benchmarks? As I have written about many times before, the single most important move will be challenging the various militias that are undermining the authority of the government and doing so much damage. One only need to look at the fallout from the chaotic execution of Saddam Hussein for an example of how badly sectarian division is stressing the country.

I believe a winning strategy is still possible. So long as the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds still seem to have some possibility of cooperating and participating in the central government, it is still possible to forge a successful country. This is why I've been so resistant to calling the situation a "civil war." The government still exists and, as of yet, the mainstream Sunnis and Shiites are still attempting to make it work. If Bush is willing to risk the political fallout from increased fighting and casualties, and if he wants to give winning its best chance, he must increase the troops for the purpose of destroying the militias and strengthening the Iraqi government. If, however, he increases the boots on the ground without changing their mission, all hope is lost.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

So You've Won...Now What?

Ethiopian troops, in support of Somalian government forces, seem to have routed the rebel fighters of the Council of Islamic Courts, a fairly important victory against radical Islam. Despite their claims to the contrary, the Islamic Courts have been accused of harboring several members of al-Qaeda suspected of involvement in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Africa, foreign jihadists have been found dead on the battlefield, and bin Laden and Zawahiri have proclaimed Somalia to be an important front in their war against the West.

One must be careful of drawing too optimistic a lesson from the Ethiopian victory as does Ralph Peters in today's New York Post. For Peters, Somalia represents the wisdom of standing up to radical Islam, rather than running:

Unconvinced by Western myths that military force is useless against terrorists, Addis Ababa's troops intervened to support Somalia's internationally recognized government against the jihadis. The no-nonsense use of force worked.

An Islamist regime that supposedly had broad support collapsed so quickly the international media couldn't keep up: On New Year's morning, newspapers warned that the Islamists, who'd fled Mogadishu, were digging in to defend their "stronghold," the vital port city of Kismayo. By the time those sanctimonious papers hit the streets, the hardcore extremists had high-tailed it, their mass of recruits had deserted and the Ethiopian military had gained control of Kismayo without a battle.

...The ideal of a perfect, eternal victory - to which the media hold those who battle terrorism - is an unfair standard. A win that overthrows a terrorist regime, whether in Afghanistan or Somalia, is worth the fight, even if the enemy can't be completely eradicated. Desperate terrorists struggling for survival are always preferable to a terrorist regime in the capital city.
Peters does note that the troubles are far from over. Indeed. There has never been any question that a rag-tag bunch of jihadists are no match for a well-equipped and well-trained military. The question is: Will the Islamic Courts turn to terror tactics to try to retake power?

The answer is not yet clear. The ability of jihadists and/or terrorists to succeed in menacing an entire country depends to a large part on the willingness of the local populace to tolerate their presence. In Iraq, while the foreign backed insurgency has weakened due to discontent within the Iraqi people, the Sunni insurgency has grown as Sunnis feel threatened and insecure in the face of a Shia-led government and Shiite militias. In Somalia, the future largely depends on two things: The speed with which Ethiopia withdraws its forces (Ethiopia is a traditional competitor, if not enemy, of Somalia) and the capacity of the government to form a stable ruling coalition. The US and the West must be willing to help with both tasks. African peacekeepers are preparing to deploy, and they must be given the funds and means to succeed in establishing control over the country. Already, there seems to be some resistance to disarming from Somalis, but as Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon have learned lately, there can be no peace where there is no government monopoly on force.

The US and its allies should begin supporting the new Somali government and the African peacekeepers immediately, and Ethiopian forces should be urged to pull out as soon as possible. Poor planning and policy could allow defeat to be snatched from the jaws of victory; in this case the stakes -- a terrorist state -- are simply too high.